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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, March 25, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 59
The descent to the pool and rancho at El Cafetal is a treat in itself. Lee and her husband Romy grow their own Negrita coffee in these hills and roast it on site.
A.M. Costa Rica/Patricia Martin photos
Three great locations show range of B&B definition 
by Patricia Martin
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

To make your stay in Costa Rica more intimate, try the cozy, country-style lodgings around the coffee towns of the northwest Central Valley. These hilltop havens offer the utmost in vistas and accommodations on lush properties, with the added advantage of on-site owners to make you feel at home. 

Cloistered in nature´s hideaway on the slopes, you´ll feel that you´ve left the rushing world behind, yet close by and waiting for you to explore are the towns that grew out of the coffee industry: Atenas, Grecia, Sarchí, Naranjo, San Ramon and Zarcero, each with its own distinctive charms and attractions. 

TO B&B OR NOT TO B&B

Not all of the establishments are strictly Bed & Breakfast. Some call themselves "inns," others "plantations," "farms" or even small hotels. Sometimes, there´s a combination of the above terms, but whatever the designation, what they all have in common is that homey ambience and pastoral tranquility. While "Bed & Breakfast" used to mean precisely those two items within a person´s private house, the definition has expanded somewhat to include individual cottages on the premises. In any case, as long as there´s a bed waiting for you and a bite in the morning, you can reasonably surmise that you´re at a B&B.

A TRIO OF TREATS

On this jaunt, we chose three excellent places to report on in the region, all within a half hour from the airport: El Cafetal Inn (telephone. 446-5785, fax 446-6975, cafetal@racsa.co.cr, website: www.cafetal.com); Hotel Posada Mimosa (494-5868, mimosa@mimosa.co.cr, website: www.mimosa.co.cr); Vista del Valle Plantation Inn (450-0800, fax 451-1165, mibrejo@racsa.co.cr, website: www.vistadelvalle.com). 

All of the establishments offer transportation to and from the airport for a fee and arrange both car rentals and tours throughout Costa Rica. The car rentals can be dropped off right at the hotels for the guests´ convenience. Although the hotels differ
from one another, the proprietors have something in common — the wisdom to live in one of Costa Rica´s most desirable weather zones!

EL CAFETAL

A 20-minute ride from the airport takes you to this working coffee plantation in Santa Eulalia of Atenas. Romy and Lee Rodríguez, two of the warmest people you´ll ever meet, produce their own "Negrita" dark-roast coffee here, along with an orchard of mangos, lemons, papayas, avocados and oranges. A year ago, the couple also opened a coffee shop called Mirador del Cafetal, about 10 minutes along the way to San Mateo, where 35 food items are featured on the menu. At both the shop and the Inn, their fresh-roasted Negrita in the form of cappuccino or iced coffee is a treat you won’t want to miss.

El Cafetal adheres closely to the original B&B concept, with most guest rooms located in the house and only one private cabin nearby. Breakfast happens to be a grand event, thanks to the culinary creativity of husband Romy, who tries to outdo himself each time by preparing a two-hour feast that requires the assistance of three helpers. For other meals, Lee is pleased to recommend two restaurants at the entrance road: El Jardin Restaurant & Bar and the simpler, family-style place attached to the home of Milcie Barantes. 

Nature trails wind through the property above the river valley, affording sights and sounds of birds and howler monkeys and a glimpse of three volcanoes: Irazu, Barva and Poás. The sheltered lookout or mirador at cliffside makes an ideal enclave for reading and meditating under a canopy of blossoms. Another favorite spot is the front patio of the house where guests curl up in suspended basket chairs to either socialize or cat nap in the 
 


Martin and Tessa Borner at their large and lovely home in the hills. A private wing of the house contains B&B guestrooms and separate units around the property offer full living quarters.
 
 
 


Zoom Zoom, the new arrival at Vista del Valley mugs for the camera while Duchess, the mother wonders what the fuss is all about. Johanna Bresnan is the owner.
 
 
 


A hammock on the veranda is what it is all about.
 
 
 


Vista del Valle blends manicured grounds with untamed vegetation. The property extends down to the Rio Grande Canyon Preserve that teems with wildlife.


Daughter Tatiana appreciates the oversized decorations in her two-story home. That includes the woven wall hanging and the wagon wheel chandelier at El Cafetal
 

sweet mountain air. A long staircase leads down to an inviting swimming pool, coffee bar and souvenir shop. 

The 10 guest rooms in the spacious and beautiful two-story house afford extensive views of the landscape through picture windows. Each unit contains a private bath, and some feature balconies. The following prices (plus tax) include the fabulous breakfast feast: Tower Rooms $99, Cafetal Rooms $87, both for two people. A single would be $70. The cabin on the property rents for $120 per night for four people with breakfast for all. Be sure to inquire about weekly rates. 

Lee from Colombia, and Romy from El Salvador met in 1989 in California, where they were both living and working. After falling in love with each other — and then with Costa Rica on a visit, they decided that as a couple who delighted in nature, people and peace, a B&B in this country would be their destiny. Their daughter Tatiana, a beautiful adolescent, shares their love of life on a coffee plantation in the hills above the Colorado River. Twenty-one tours are available to the guests, taking in attractions of the country near and far.

Strangely, no one is checked in at a desk upon their arrival. Lee and Romy want the guests to feel that they´re coming to a home, not a hotel. Everything is so casual in the house that people wander downstairs in their pajamas to grab a morning coffee to take back to their room before the grand-slam breakfast is ready.

POSADA MIMOSA

She came from England, he from Germany, and they´re both Canadian citizens. Now Tessa and Martin Borner have made Costa Rica their home — but not without a great deal of fuss. You´ll want to read about their trials and triumphs in Tessa´s new book "Potholes to Paradise." 

It´s a good read for anyone contemplating a move to Costa Rica, especially to start a business. Unlike most travel books, this one reveals what the author calls both faces of the country — the tourist one and the real one. Tessa, a journalist and English teacher, takes no prisoners in this engaging account, but despite all, she and her husband have come to love their adopted country and have found contentment here. For information about purchasing the book in Costa Rica, Canada or the U.S., check the website of their B&B, which is www.mimosa.co.cr. Or simply log on to www.amazon.com and order your copy for $13.95 U.S.

In Costa Rica the book is available at The Literate Cat (262-5206) in Heredia as well as Liberia International bookstores (288-1138), the Alajuela Mall (442-3800) at at Poás and Monteverde gift shops.

Their 17-acre home and guest compound, graced by a 220 degree panorama from a 750-meter (2,438-foot) altitude, retains no hint of struggles along the way, so peaceful is the atmosphere. The grounds enclose gardens vivid with blossoms and fruit, birds and butterflies. From the swimming pool and open-sided rancho, guests gaze upon the verdant valley and the distant mountain peaks.

Martin´s outdoor "gymnasium" with primitive looking exercise devices he fashioned out of scrap, is at everyone´s disposal. Some visitors may just look at the strange contraptions and shrug, but Martin has used them to rebuild his strength after undergoing heart surgery several years ago in Costa Rica. He and Tessa have strong praise for the medical care he received here. Retired from careers in European hotel management and international real estate investment, he now relishes his role of hospitality maven at Posada Mimosa. 

Accommodations range from rooms in a private guest wing of the inn to a guest house with two suites, a family cabin, and a cottage. The units vary in size, amenities and price, with some of the larger structures renting by the month, so it´s best to consult the website, www.mimosa.co.cr. To give you some idea here, a double room costs $60 + tax, including breakfast. Suites and cabins run $65 to $95 per night, with their own cooking facilities.

With advance notice, dinners may be arranged, even for large groups. Posada Mimosa belongs to the village of Rincon de Salas, 15 minutes from the pristine town of Grecia (with its 1800´s metal church) where several Tico restaurants can be found. A short drive to Sarchí offers more dining choices of typical fare, and visitors will want to explore the work of artisans there who produce the decorated oxcarts as well as crafts and household furniture. The surrounding area of farms, sugar cane fields and villages makes for some splendid local sightseeing. Botanical gardens, waterfalls, cloud forests and nature preserves are all within easy reach. 

As for longer jaunts around Costa Rica, the Borners enlist the services of reliable tour companies. Their son Jason in the Osa Peninsula runs Ecotreks Adventure Co., which specializes in sailing charters, sportfishing, and whale and dolphin sighting. Tel/fax 735-5723 or e-mail tervoz@racsa.co.cr. for adventures and house rentals there. Or if you’re making your reservations at Posada Mimosa (494-5868), Tessa and Martin will take care of the Osa arrangements as well.

VISTA DEL VALLE PLANTATION INN

"There isn´t a day that I don´t get up and thank God for all this," says Johanna Bresnan. No wonder. She´s referring to the magnificent mountaintop acreage above the Rio Grande Canyon where she and husband Mike live in an enchanting dreamhouse designed of wood, stone and glass. 

Tucked away in private locations on the property are the guest houses, nine of them in Japanese style and kitchen-equipped, while the thatched-roof bungalow contains a mini fridge and coffee maker. The latter, incidentally, is wheelchair accessible. Prices during this high season, with breakfast included, range from $110 to $155 plus tax, but check the website www.vistadelvalle.com for updates and details. 

The Bresnans refer to their idyllic spread as "the farm," an apt description for the fertile hills yielding coffee, mangos, papayas and oranges, with an organic vegetable garden in the works. A horse lover, Johanna keeps impeccable stables and takes guests on her "slice of life" riding tour. They traverse villages and coffee plantations, venture into the nature preserve, and end up viewing the entire Central Valley and four volcanoes from the top of a ridge.

Her first and most beloved horse, an Andalusian named Duchess, was a gift from husband Mike for her 50th birthday. The gift that keeps on giving, Duchess just produced an adorable little filly eight weeks ago, called Zoom Zoom. Their owner keeps the two of them in a separate corral which she visits regularly, bestowing lots of affection on them.

Unlike many other expatriots, Mike Bresnan did not settle in Costa Rica as a retiree. Once a Peace Corps worker in the 1960s, he subsequently became involved with a private, non-profit, humanitarian organization, and at present serves on the Board of Directors of The Children´s Hunger Relief Organization. The couple met in the United States doing professional work with disturbed adolescents. Although they married in Costa Rica, they continued to live in California for 17 more years until their ultimate move here in 1988.

Vista del Valle, Johanna points out, is both an inn and a plantation, but not a B&B, inasmuch as it involves a full-scale restaurant. In fact, the meals are so sophisticated and delicious that people come from all around the coffee towns to dine at the long tables under a canopy by the swimming pool. Given the chef´s popularity, it´s best to call ahead (450-0800) for lunch or dinner reservations. When Vista del Valle Restaurant has more than it can handle, the proprietors recommend other places such as Rancho Mirador in San Miguel, and Delicias del Maíz in La Garita.

The plantation slopes down to a 300-ft. waterfall on the Bresnan´s land, bordering the Rio Grande Canyon Preserve with it´s river and creeks. Guests have sighted such exotic creatures as anteaters, deer, sloths, gray foxes, spotted cats and mountain lions. Happily, the lions like to stay in the canyon. The "Guardia de Bosques," comprised of 20 to 30 young people from the village, patrol the canyon to prevent poaching and keep it clean and safe for humans and animals.

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